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Film / Summer of '84

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"Even serial killers live next door to someone."
David "Davey" Armstrong

Summer of 84 is a 2018 movie by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (credited as RKSS) and stars Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, and Rich Sommer. It was an official selection of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

In the summer of 1984, in the sleepy suburb of Ipswich, Oregon, near Cape May, David "Davey" Armstrong (Verchere), age fifteen, is spending his days flinging papers from his bike on his paper route, hanging out with his gang of friends - Tommy "Eats" Eaton, Dale "Woody" Woodworth, and Curtis Farraday (Lewis, Emery and Gruter-Andrew) - and pining over his crush on his former babysitter (and eighteen-year-old total babe) Nikki Kazsuba (Skovbye). At night, he plays Manhunt, a form of group hide-and-seek played in the twilight hours.

But Davey's summer takes a turn when his neighbor, Mr. Mackey (Sommer), a neighborhood cop, asks him for help moving a heavy dresser down from the upstairs into his basement, and Davey discovers a door inside locked with a padlock. Then a few nights later, during a round of Manhunt, Davey stakes out a hiding spot near Mackey's window, and sees him with a teenage boy he doesn't recognize. At first, these two pieces of information aren't of big concern to Davey, but then he overhears his dad, a cameraman for the local TV station, being told the station has received a letter from someone claiming responsibility for the deaths of over a dozen people in various towns around Cape May. Then, during a late breakfast by himself, Davey looks at the carton of milk he's pouring over his cereal, and recognizes the missing boy on it: the same boy who was with Mackey that night. Turning this over in his head, Davey comes to one fateful conclusion:

Mr. Mackey is the newly-dubbed Cape May Slayer.

Of course, Davey is smart enough to realize that no one will believe a kid with only a milk carton to back him up. If he's going to prove Mackey's a serial killer, he needs some hard evidence. To that end, he ropes up Eats, Woody and Farraday into his plan to keep close surveillence on Mackey, learning his habits, and searching for some hard evidence to take to the adults to convince them to take him seriously. But the more they watch Mackey, and the closer they get to him, the more they risk his discovery, and even if Davey's right, they might just be putting themselves in real danger...

Summer of 84 provides examples of:

  • The '80s: As implied by the title, and explores the themes of great films of the era such as The Goonies and recent homages such as Stranger Things and It (2017). And then brutally deconstructs them
  • Agony of the Feet: Mackey hobbles Davey by slashing his Achilles tendon.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Once Davey - a conspiracy and mystery buff - becomes convinced that he knows the identity of the Cape Bay Slayer he is extremely excited because he finally has a real mystery of his own to solve and something exciting is finally happening in their boring town. This has all come back to haunt him in the worst possible way by the end of the film.
  • Big Bad: Officer Wayne Mackey really is the killer.
  • Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: The only death among the main cast is Woody, the physically largest member of the group.
  • Briar Patching: When he gets grounded, Davey protests that it's completely unfair he's being made to stay home from the Fourth of July festival. Once his parents are gone, he radios the boys to put his plan to break into Mackey's house with his dad's video camera while Mackey's at the festival into action.
  • Book Ends: The first shot of the film is of Davey on his bike, doing his paper route, with nothing out of the ordinary. The last shot of the film matches the first, but it displays everything that has changed in the neighborhood: Davey's cast on his foot as a result of Mackey's attack; Eats and Farraday at Eats's house, dismantling the clubhouse; Nikki waving goodbye from a car, on her way to college; Woody's house now up for sale; Mackey's house sealed off with crime scene tape; and the headline that Davey reads is "Serial Killer Still On The Loose" reiterating how Davey is living under Mackey's threat.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: By the end of the film the killer has been identified and the murders stopped. But only because the killer is forced to leave town. In the process he kills Woody, hospitalizes Davey, and leaves the entire community shattered. The ending implies that Davey is permanently scarred by the ordeal and his and his surviving friends' lives will never be the same.
  • Cassandra Truth: None of the adults in Davey's life take his warnings about the killer seriously.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Early in the film, Davey's dad warns him against playing with the station's portable camera that Dad tends to bring home from work. Woody has the camera with him when they break into Mackey's house during the Fourth of July festival, and catches the damning evidence of Mackey's killings on tape.
    • After Davey helps Mackey carry the dresser down to the basement, Davey notices a wall full of photos. He asks about them, and Mackey says they're his extended family who live in another state. While leaving Mackey's house after rescuing his last kidnap victim, Davey recognizes him in a photo on the wall, as well as the boy he saw in Mackey's kitchen. Davey realizes the photos are actually a trophy wall of Mackey's victims - and there's a new photo added.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Davey is one to the point that his bedroom is literally wallpapered with sensational tabloid articles and his friends tease him about trying to use his computer to contact aliens. Unfortunately, with such an active imagination, it tends to make people dismiss his earnest warnings about the killer.
  • Convenient Photograph: Played with in the pictures on Mackey's wall. Davey figures out that it's not important what's on them, but that they are there at all.
  • Corrupt Cop: One of the reasons Davey is so fixated on Officer Mackey as the suspect is because as a police officer, he could easily mislead the investigation and dispose of evidence. Once Mackey realizes how close the boys are getting, he simply goes out and arrests someone, framing them for the crimes to quickly bring the investigation to an end.
  • Covers Always Lie: Look at the poster on the page image - note the name printed on the milk carton is Davey Armstrong. Davey's not the kid that went missing, he's The Hero. You might intuit that it's spoiling the ending, but it's not. Davey ends up neither missing nor dead.
  • Creepy Basement: One of the most tense scene of the movie is when Davey and friends decide to check the neighbor's house when he's away to see once and for all if he's a Serial Killer. The dark basement full of broken furniture is creepy enough but then they get behind the locked door: a recreation of a 50's boy's bedroom, pictures of his victims, and a decomposing body in the bathtub.
  • Cruel Mercy: Mackey spares Davey so he will live in fear of the day Mackey comes to murder him in revenge.
  • Deconstruction:
    • Of the Nostalgia Filter seen in recent 80s homages such as Stranger Things, showing a darker side to the decade than those works.
    • The ending likewise is a brutally honest Surprisingly Realistic Outcome deconstruction look at what would happen if a group of kids investigated and tried to stop an evil threat. The results would be that they would be horribly out of their depth and stand no chance against a foe that dangerous. There is no triumphant victory, just death and despair and a killer that gets away Scott free.
  • Detective Mole: Davey believes the Cape May Slayer to be one of the police officer working on the case. He's right, and the officer uses his position to arrest someone else for his crimes when the kids get too close to the truth.
  • Disappeared Dad: Woody's dad does not live with his mom or Woody, and is never mentioned.
  • Downer Ending: Davey's still alive, Mackey's been exposed as the Cape May Slayer, and at least one innocent life was saved by the boys - but Mackey is still at large, and Davey's living under the threat that he will come back for him. Woody is dead by Mackey's hands, taking away the only good thing in his mother's life, and Nikki is leaving for college, likely driving her and Davey apart.
  • Event Title
  • Face on a Milk Carton: Davey recognizes a missing person from his carton of milk as the boy he saw with Mr. Mackey, and this kicks off the main plot.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Officer Mackey appears to be so kind and charming that there's a moment where it seems like even Davey is starting to believe him.
  • Foreshadowing: The killer says a few things that foreshadow his identity.
    • He tells Davey that he wants to freeze him at his current age.
    • He promises Davey that he'll get him "outta that house" when he's grounded.
  • Free-Range Children: The boys are out of school for the summer, and their parents are unable (or unwilling) to keep close tabs on their day-to-day activities, which enables them to keep such a detailed watch on Mackey's activities.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: At the end of the movie, the Cape May Slayer has captured Davey and Woody after they revealed his identity and drops them at his dumping ground with the intent to hunt them down and kill them.
  • Implied Rape: The Cape May Slayer is heavily implied to rape his victims before killing them. The word is never mentioned, but they are mostly all teen boys, he stalks and fantasizes about murdering them for a while (maybe years in Davey's case), and when Davey and the others break into his Torture Cellar near the end of the film, it's set up to look like a childhood bedroom. Plus, the older teenager who got abducted at the start of the film (and so has been held captive for at least days, but probably weeks), is still alive down there, although injured and very traumatized, which further suggests that he's probably a rapist.
  • Invisible Parents: Farraday's are these - it's never implied they're abusive or neglectful, they seem to be much like Davey's parents: too busy working during the day to keep an eye on their teenage son. They're simply Out of Focus because Farraday's not The Hero, Davey is.
  • Karma Houdini: Mackey murders at least 15 boys. After his crimes are exposed, he hides and escapes, and he is still at large by the end of the movie. Then again, his face is known to the world, so he might not get away with it forever. While there are an alarming number of Serial Killers who have never been identified, there are very few who escaped justice once identified.
  • Killer Cop: What Mackey might or might not be. Turns out that he is.
  • Moral Myopia: Mackey murders several dozen young boys? No big deal to him. Expose him and force him to flee, "ruining his life?" Oh, he just flips out about that to insane degrees, regardless of the why.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Though not exactly a "hero", Davey's father. Davey goes to him with not only eyewitness testimony of seeing a missing boy in Mackey's kitchen, but the boy's discarded T-shirt which has blood on it. The T-shirt itself is obviously a young boy's, and Mackey lives alone and has never mentioned any relativesnote . Given the Cape May Killer has actually revealed himself to the police as a killer of young boys, the most sensible course of action would be to go to the FBI and get them to test the blood, at least, or see if the T-shirt can be identified as the missing boy's, right? Despite the fact he's a news cameraman, with a fair amount of exposure to the nasty side of life, Davey's father doesn't do either of those things. Instead, he marches Davey straight over to Mackey's house, and forces Davey to not only reveal the whole surveillance operation, but to apologize to Mackey for it. Which basically sets Davey and his friends up as sitting ducks.
  • Parental Abandonment: Eats' parents seem to be too busy fighting with each other to wonder where he is.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Officer Mackey has a secret room that he has turned into an exact replica of his childhood bedroom - it's heavily implied his urges and modus operandi are a result of his own state of arrested development: he never really grew past child/teenagehood, and he projects this psychosis through victims that remind him of his younger self. And to top it off, he whines and sobs like a child once his identity has been exposed, blaming Davey for "stealing his life".
  • "Rear Window" Investigation: Davey is convinced his neighbor is a serial killer and convinces his friends to go investigate with him, which includes digging up his garden and breaking in his house.
  • Red Herring: The massive amounts of soil Mackey is buying from the gardening shop, and the pickaxe. Turns out, they're for a city-sponsored beautification project at the Cape Mackey is working on that is revealed at the festival.
  • Running Gag: Eats stealing nudie magazines by shoving them down his pants.
  • Serial Killer: The plot hinges on the question - Is Mr. Mackey one, or is Davey letting his imagination get the best of him?
  • Shout-Out:
    • At one point the boys kick back with a bottle of "MacReady's Whiskey:" a clear shout out to The Thing (1982). Like The Thing, Summer of 84 explores the fear that someone you know might be a monster.
    • Despite everyone talking about how boring the town of Ipswich is, their bowling alley has nevertheless managed to score an actual Polybius machine.
    • There are a few to Real Life as well: Mackey's Volkswagen is the same model that belonged to serial killer Ted Bundy and the town the film takes place in, Ipswich, is likely a nod to the English town of the same name that was terrorized by a serial killer in 2006. Furthermore, Mackey is a well-respected man in his neighborhood who has "Wayne" in his name, and he preys on young boys. These characteristics might be a nod to John Wayne Gacy.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Stranger Things. Both are period pieces set in the 1980s, feature nods to works from that decade, center on a cast of young teenage boys (and one girl) and are set to 80s-inspired synth music, but whereas Stranger Things portrays the events with a sense of childlike wonder, Summer of '84 does so with gritty realism.
  • The Smurfette Principle: There's one major female character - Davey's old babysitter Nikki - who is his Love Interest to boot.
  • Suburban Gothic: During the '80s, in the supposedly nice suburbs, a boy becomes convinced that his seemingly-ordinary, very polite cop neighbor is actually preying on and murdering teenage boys. And he is. In his ordinary suburban home, he even has a horrific Torture Cellar set up to look like a wholesome 1950s bedroom. At the end, Mackay specifically leaves Davey alive because he wants him to never feel safe - not even in the suburbs - ever again.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Mackey seems to be a pillar of the community. Truth is, he's actually murdered multiple children.
  • We Will Meet Again: Mackey once being exposed as the killer he's forced to leave the country but he promises to Davey that one day he'll be back for revenge.
  • Wham Shot: Davey, Nikki and Woody have broken into the Creepy Basement and discovered Mackey's last victim, and are on their way out. As they head through the living room, Davey's eye catches on the wall of photos he saw at the beginning of the movie. He recognizes the boy he and Woody are carrying, and the now-dead boy he first saw in Mackey's kitchen. He realizes that it's actually a trophy wall, with photos of all his victims. Then Davey sees a new addition: a family portrait of him and both his parents.
  • Would Hurt a Child: A serial killer is not only terrorizing a small cluster of coastal communities, but he is preying exclusively on teenage and preteen boys and have killed at least 15 teen boys.
  • The X of Y